Bart and Diana Tyler helped bring Bridges into existence. They traveled separately to Nicaragua on two trips in 1993 organized by Bill Daniels and Carter Via and returned so passionate about Nicaragua that they, along with Karla Diserens, were moved to formalize Bridges as a 501c3 and to bring down others to work on projects in Nicaragua. Diana says, “The three of us each had a different reason for becoming so involved with Bridges. I had grown up in five different impoverished countries, and the last one was Guatemala, so I knew that the need was there. At the time I went on the trip, I was back in the US living in an affluent community and raising my kids. I felt depleted inside and longed for a solution for those people who live in poverty in [developing] countries. On the trip, I realized that, yes, I am this one little person, but I can do something and something that has immense meaning for me.”
Bart adds, “I had had a social conscience epiphany a few years before and became very involved in homelessness and housing. When I heard about the Nicaragua trip, I just had to see it for myself. [Seeing the type of poverty that existed and] that people in Nicaragua had a different sense of community than I had at home, I decided that I needed to bring others to show them as well.”
In 1994, Bart and Diana led the very first trip booked in advance and not comprised of just their family and friends. They explain that the trips were quite different from how they are now. At the time, there was only one permanent staff member on the ground and many trips were two weeks. Nicaragua was much less developed. Bart and Diana say, “The infrastructure in Nicaragua was flimsy at best…very rudimentary. There weren’t many nonprofits there at the time. Transportation and goods were so much harder to come by…[When we got to Managua,] we had to go to the market to buy everything we ate for the week and all supplies: pots and pans, chlorine to chlorinate the water…there was no purified water back then. Then we traveled in the back of the truck to the Boaco region to the community of Los Rostrojos…the roads got increasingly bad until we reached a spot about three hours [from Managua] where the community members would wait for us. We got out and took a path used for walking and cattle for about 45 minutes until we got to a string of maybe a dozen mud huts that was the center of the community.
There was a real sense of scarcity, and everybody acted like it. People were hungry; food was not ample, which was why we had to bring it with us from the market in Managua…Cement and other construction materials were difficult to find [and then they had to be] delivered on these little wooden frames on the backs of the horses…The river was about a half mile away from the site, and people had to carry buckets one by one from the river to the site to be able to mix cement.”
There were difficulties, but, according to Bart and Diana, it was a wonderful experience, and they remember fondly many things. They say, “At the time, there were no Americans in Nicaragua, so we were the very first that the community members had ever seen. We stayed in tents, and every time you went into the tent, you would have kids and adults peering in to look at you…The duration of the trip, we were the nightly entertainment. It was not uncomfortable but very innocent, totally without maliciousness. There was a wonderful innocence to all of their investigations about us. They wanted to see us and wanted the company. It was an event, and the whole community was there.
At the time, we worked on more community-based projects like schools, and there was tremendous community participation. If we were 20 in the group, more than double the number of locals would turn out to work on the site with us…it was extremely gratifying to hang out with community leaders and to hear them. The conversations we had with community members gave them hope that there are people out there that care…that go to a developing country and work alongside the locals. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that we bring as an organization: the ability to imagine that things can be different than the way they are. To hear community leaders talking about what comes next in their community was and is so amazing and a significant [change because,] at the beginning, each time we left, the community had no expectations in their minds that we would return, even though the trips were already planned. It was always a shock to them that we had returned [to work on the promised projects]; they didn’t believe we would actually be back.”
Bart and Diana have been equally involved in the US-side of operations. Bart created an office for Bridges and helped run the organization in the early days, and has held many positions, including Board Chair, Treasurer, and Vice-Chair, his current position. When an official board was established, Diana joined and worked as Fundraising Chair and Auction Chair.
Bart and Diana truly believe that the Bridges experience is life-changing in different ways for our volunteers. They say, “Everyone has their own take on what they saw on the Bridges trip and how they feel they need to respond to it. Volunteers come away with their own interpretation and make changes in their own lives where they see fit…it is so gratifying how Bridges has evolved. Today, we can provide a trip experience that is much safer and better organized, but people have the same experience and are impacted similarly [by the] interactive [nature] of the experience: the meaningful dialogue and work side-by-side between the different cultures. Volunteers still use common words to describe the impact of the Bridges trip, and the feelings are still the same…I am proud of that.”
Bart and Diana are looking forward to attending the 2019 Leadership Dinner Reunion Celebration and sharing with others who have been similarly impacted by the Bridges experience.